We must prepare youth for artificial intelligence
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - May 24, 2019 - 12:00am

By 2029 computers will surpass human intelligence, says futurist Ray Kurzweil, Google director of engineering. That’s only ten short years away. It’s hard to dismiss Kurzweil’s technological predictions. Of 147 forecasts 126 came true by 2009, for an 86-percent batting average.

In his first of eight books, “The Age of Intelligent Machines,” 1990, Kurzweil analyzed that the spread of cell phones and faxes would crush the Soviet Union. Late the following year it did. Meeting in 2005 Mikhail Gorbachev told him that electronic communication had zapped apparat control of the flow of information. Kurzweil also noted from advances in chess software that machines would beat the best human players by 2000. In 1997 world champion Garry Kasparov resigned to IBM’s Deep Blue computer. And at a time when only 2.6 million people in the world were using (very erratic) Internet in academe, business and the military, Kurzweil saw an explosion of wire-ups. Today half the world population, 3.85 billion people, has Internet access.

So when Kurzweil says 2029 is the year artificial intelligence (AI) will overtake human, the thing to do is not quibble but prepare. More so since machines and robots will take over human jobs. AI expert Kai-Fu Lee, former president of Google China, estimates that half of present job types will disappear.

Computers have become faster and data storage denser. Chips no longer are limited to memory, for calculating or word processing. Programming has leveled up to algorithmic neural networks that match human capacity.

AI research and development have focused on making computers act like the human brain. Machines have “learned” visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. Thus is Amazon able to offer up a new product right after a customer’s purchase. Or Facebook can tag a person in a photograph. Or Spotify follows up a selected song with others of the same genre and period. More sophisticated are the computers that can plot fashion trends and forecast weather from decades or centuries of historical data.

AI is already in the stage of “deep learning.” Fed huge amounts of data, automatons are able to analyze and invent. Programs mimic how humans learn from experience. Algorithms make machines perform a task repeatedly, each time tweaking it a little to improve the outcome. An autonomous car, for instance, will brake if a piece of paper flies across its path or a rain puddle forms on the road, perceiving those as obstacles. But on slowly negotiating past, it will note the items to be harmless the next time. More than that, it will teach other driverless cars by beaming the info.

One can just imagine what jobs will become irrelevant. Already garments factories are scaling down in space and manpower. Computer-backed sewing machines can now embroider designs on fabric and patches on uniforms with consistency. Personal assistants, like Siri in iPhone, can be programmed not only to obey but also anticipate needs. Language nuances can be deep learned, as handy tools for international travelers, businessmen, and government leaders. “Reading glasses” can dictate text; tell color, shape, distance and volume; and recognize friends for the blind. Lifelike colorization of black-and-white or drab images can become easy. Chat robots simultaneously can provide customer service in banks, showrooms, and sales counters. Face recognition can be used not only for security but to identify persons from hazy or obstructed visuals. Again from stored data, apps are able to analyze x-rays and medical test results, and thence diagnose ailments. Those can be coupled with gadgets that monitor the wearer’s blood pressure, heart rate, calorie burning, steps walked, and hours slept. Medicines can be personalized.

AI will disrupt industries with the largest number of routine jobs – manufacturing, call centers, banks, and retail – says Lee. Companies’ survival will depend on the speed of their automation. The slow and the unready will fall by the wayside.      

Today’s youths will face the super-AI that Kurzweil foresees in 2029. This early they must be prepared, advocates Greg Naterer, dean of engineering and applied science at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Traditional subjects and competencies taught in college need reviewing in light of coming disruptions in the job market. Government, business, and academe must join hands to determine what new skills will be needed at the workplace. Syllabuses must be devised for “resilient competencies” versus those that AI will replace.

Getting Filipinos, especially youths, interested in AI is vital. The media, including television, movies, advertising, merchandising displays, can be encouraged to inform and excite people about things to come.

China is most advanced in that regard, says Lee in his new book, “AI Superpowers.” In the West, AI is concentrated in California’s Silicon Valley. In China interest, innovation, and investments in AI is all over. They got so fired up partly because of two events. One in five Chinese – 260 million people – saw on TV how a machine much more sophisticated than Deep Blue defeated the world champion of the ancient Oriental strategy board game Go. Also, how Chinese astronauts blasted off to explore the dark side of the moon.

Lee narrates that, in speaking tours, even Chinese kindergartners would ask him questions like: Are we going to have robot teachers? What if one robot car bumps into another robot car and we get hurt? Will people marry robots and have babies with them? Will computers become so smart that they can boss us around? If machines do everything, then what are we going to do? Those are the same questions asked by business and political elites, Lee notes.      

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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